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Interestingly, along with wooing voters through rallies and roadshows, Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah’s main focus is on meeting the the heads of various religious mutts and temples of almost every caste denomination – Lingayat, Vokkaliga, Kuruba and others in between.
WHY PARTIES ARE GOING OVERBOARD
Instead of hinging on development issues, such as roads, water, power, education and jobs, stitching the right caste coalition has become the overriding narrative in the upcoming assembly election.
The view in political parties is that in rural constituencies, followers blindly vote according to the decree of a mutt or temple. “The hundreds of caste-based mutts have a set of followers from major communities — Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Kurubas and Dalits. One cannot ignore this,” a senior Congress leader said.
“Moreover, caste divisions are so deep that some seers of a particular caste have identified themselves with leaders or parties. So, political parties are overtly showing their affiliations to seek their support,” he added.
Amit Shah meets the pontiff of Suttur Mutt (TOI photo)
THE LINGAYAT VOTE
The poll season began with the Congress cabinet’s decision to accord religious minority status to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats (believers of Basava philosophy, — an obvious attempt to dent the BJP vote bank. Lingayats constitute 17% of Karnataka’s population.
The move has proved to be a shot in the arm to the Congress, as a recent forum of Lingayat seers attended by some 50 pontiffs indirectly gave a call to the community to support the party in the assembly polls.
“Ours is an apolitical forum and we don’t want to get involved in electoral politics. But, we have decided to support those who supported us,” Shivamurthy Murugha Rajendra Swami of Chitradurga Murugha mutt said following the meeting.
Mathe Mahadevi of Basava Dharma Peetha was more vocal and minced no words in extending support to Congress. “I personally support Congress and I appeal to Lingayats to support the Congress,” she said.
A proposal sent by the Siddaramaiah government seeking minority status to Lingayats under Section 3(c) of the National Commission for Minorities is pending for approval before the Centre since March 23.
READ ALSO: Lingayats give call to support Congress
Rahul Gandhi meet chief pontiff of Siddaganga Mutt (PTI Photo)
VOKKALIGA PASSIONS RUNNING HIGH
The Vokkaligas are another dominant caste of South Karnataka, which forms around 8% of the state’s population. With resentment in the community against CM Siddaramaiah on the rise, the chief minister has reason to be nervous.
Although several factors are at play, one reason for the anti-Siddaramaiah sentiment is his call to end the political hegemony of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. The JD(S) supremo is one of the most respected leaders of the community.
“The JD(S) has used Siddaramaiah’s political call to consolidate the Vokkaliga votebank,” political analyst Muzaffar H Assadi said. “Anyone who is opposed to Deve Gowda and (his son) Kumaraswamy are dubbed adversaries of Vokkaligas. So Vokkaligas are coming together to teach Siddaramaiah a lesson.”
The hostility though has been building up over the years — ever since Siddaramaiah was made chief minister. The general view among the community is that political dynamics in the rural setup changed after Siddaramaiah covertly began politically empowering members from his Kuruba community. Vokkaligas feel they have been sidelined because of Siddaramaiah’s vindictive politics.
READ ALSO: Why are Vokkaligas angry with Siddaramaiah
With the caste factor in play, parties have thumbed a nose at the rulebook. The model code of conduct, which is in force in Karnataka, clearly states that political parties must not seek votes using religion or caste, however, Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah have been crisscrossing around the state visiting temples and mutts — and dargahs and gurudwaras — as they woo different faiths and sections of society.
RAHUL GOES MUTT HOPPING
While BJP leaders have been playing the Hindutva card, projecting Siddaramaiah as “anti-Hindu”, Rahul, as part of the party’s soft Hindutva strategy, is openly wooing the Lingayat community by visiting their mutts and reciting vachanas of Basavanna in his public speeches.
Shah has gone a step further by visiting birthplaces of saints such as Kanakadasa (revered by Kurubas). When the Siddaganga Mutt Swami of Tumakuru turned 111 recently, both BJP and Congress bigwigs jostled to seek his blessings.
TRACKING THE TEMPLE RUN
CM contenders — Siddaramaiah, B S Yeddyurappa and H D Kumarswamy — have also been holdings public parleys with seers.
READ ALSO: Shah’s Lingayat hopping a disaster or success
THE DALIT FACTOR
Both parties are actively wooing the Dalit community. The scheduled castes (SC) and tribes (ST) in Karnataka together constitute 24% share in the state’s population, with Dalits being a majority. Of the Karnataka’s 224 assembly constituencies, 36 constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 15 for Scheduled tribes.
In the last few months, the Congress has been doling out sops to retain its vote base. The BJP too is working overtime to broaden its base among the Dalits. For the Congress, in particular, there is concern that the JDS tie-up with Mayawati’s BSP will cause a dent in their vote bank.
Findings of a leaked caste census called the “Socio-Economic and Educational Survey”, which includes current caste composition. The state government has not yet officially released the census. Read more here
MUSLIMS WANT THEIR SHARE
Banking on the sizable 12% Muslim population, Muslims leaders, meanwhile, are pushing the current Congress govt to reserve at least one constituency in each district of the state for Muslim candidate. “The high voter turnout from Muslim strongholds could be a game-changer for Congress” according to a senior Congress leader.
The BJP, on the other hand, appears to be focusing on its core voter base — and is sticking to the Hindutva route.
With the state a litmus test for both parties ahead of the Lok Sabha polls due in 2019, the role of caste has never been as glaring as in the current assembly elections. All eyes are on May 15 to see who wins the battle.